The way employees work, behave, cooperate and communicate makes a big difference no matter how good the strategy is or how well the processes have been defined

One of the things I always point out to line managers is that employees are their most valuable “asset”. Will they achieve the goals in an effective and efficient way does not solely depend on the strategy and tactics. In fact the biggest part of the success is down to the people. The way they work, behave, cooperate and communicate makes a big difference no matter how good the strategy is or how well the processes have been defined.

This ultimately depends mostly on the level of their engagement and on how the organization and the management are treating them. In that manner we could differentiate 4 types of employees:

  • Passive Mercenaries – are the worst kind of employees one could have. They are disengaged and feel no ownership over the organization’s vision, mission or success. Their contribution is very low and their connection to the company as well. In hard times they might abandon the ship or stay there being idle as always. But one thing is for sure – they will not do much to help the company get out of the crisis. As these kind of employees are the far opposite of the Active Owners you will have to work both on their engagement and ownership which is a long way to go. Therefore, before even starting the journey you should make a solid assessment which ones have the potential to make it to the fourth quadrant and with which you will be only spending time and money. The ones that you assess that have no potential for improvement are the ones you should decide what to do with as they have low contribution and have negative influence on overall engagement and climate. 
  • Active Mercenaries – are more productive than the passive mercenaries but since they feel no connection with the company they may be the first ones out of the door as soon as the things start going downwards. These kind of employees are mostly engaged by salaries, bonuses and compensation & benefits packages, so as soon as they see a risk or see a better offer elsewhere, they wouldn’t hesitate to leave. Eventually, they do not really care about the company success and bottom line as long as they get their part. Though it seems that this type of employees lack only the ownership, it might not be easy to overcome that problem as it may prove that these are kind of “lone wolfs” and lone wolfs are out there to hunt for them selves only. The ones you can overturn will be of true value as they will become active owners. The rest you should monitor closer and set them goals and objectives that closely supporting your strategy.
  • Passive Owners – these are usually employees that have been with the company for a longer period. They identify them selves with the organization and to some extent live with the vision and mission. Some of them are even very proud of being part of the organization. However, their level of engagement is low and thus they contribute very little to your success. If the ship starts sinking they will not abandon it, but will not do much to prevent drowning with it either. Since these employees are connected with the company, the thing to be fixed is their engagement starting with understanding the reasons for the low levels of engagement and creating an action plan to solve it. In most cases there is a specific reason for their disengagement since people that care about the organization would usually do more to contribute to the mutual success.
  • Active Owners – these are engaged to highly engaged employees who live the shared vision and mission. They do their job in a way to contribute to the mutual success. In most cases they are self-driven and would do their best to help the company achieve the goals. In hard times, most of them, will try even more in order to help the company get out of the storm. The more of these on board the bigger the chances for success.

about soldiers, the following quote from Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is a very good illustration of the mercenaries:

… the arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own, or they are mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe… 

So what can you do to move them to Active Owners?

  • Fixing the level of Engagement

Disengaged employees are a burden to the company from many different aspects. They are less productive, less innovative and creative and less interested in the success of the company. They have negative influence on the working climate, making others unproductive as well. In order to improve it you should first start with determining the level of engagement (how many employees are disengaged, who are they, to what extent are they disengaged), then assessing the reasons for the disengagement and eventually to create an plan how to solve it. The action plan complexity and duration will differ from case to case, but the good part is that engagement is solvable and in most of the cases does not require a lot of money and effort.

  • Fixing the Ownership

Ownership could be a bit more difficult to solve since here we talk about how employees emotionally perceive the company and how well they are connected to its vision and mission. To start the journey the company (read the management) should have a precise picture of that vision, mission and purpose. On the way of crystallizing that picture it would be good to include a number of employees who would immediately accept them as their own. After that it should be shared and cascaded down to all levels of employees supported by regular events, workshops and other activities on the topic. Eventually they should be included in the performance and potential management system and various employee of the month / year awards.

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